Justice Solomy Balungi Bossa of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
On November 24, 2017, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) held that Rwanda violated Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza’s right to freedom of opinion and expression, as well as her right to an adequate defense. See AfCHPR, Ingabire Victoire Umuhoza v. The Republic of Rwanda, App. No. 003/2014, Judgment of 24 November 2017, paras. 173(viii)-(ix). Specifically, the African Court held that Rwanda violated the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) because the criminal conviction and sentence imposed on Ingabire for a speech that, the African Court found, did not minimize the genocide was a disproportional and unnecessary restriction on her freedom of speech; however, the Court further found that the law criminalizing the minimization of genocide may impose a legitimate restriction on the right to freedom of expression for purposes of preserving public order and national security. See id. at paras. 141, 161-163. The Court’s analysis on the right to freedom expression draws on the only other judgment from the Court to weigh on an alleged violation of that right and relies, as that previous judgment did, on comparative international human rights jurisprudence to develop the right to freedom of expression in its own case law, including to recognize that the right protects opinions that “offend, shock or disturb.” See id. at paras. 120-63; AfCHPR, Lohé Issa Konaté v. Burkina Faso, App. No. 004/2013, Judgment of 5 December 2014.
While Ingabire’s case was pending before the Court, Rwanda moved to withdrawal its declaration allowing individuals to appeal directly to the AfCHPR; while the withdrawal has gone into effect, it does not affect those cases that the Court already had jurisdiction over, including Ingabire’s case. [IJRC] See AfCHPR, Ingabire Victoire Umuhoza v. The Republic of Rwanda, App. No. 003/2014, Ruling on Jurisdiction, 5 September 2016. Read more
United Nations Human Rights Council
Credit: UN Photo/Pierre-Michel Virot
In November, several universal and regional bodies will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations, through the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, dialogues, and hearings on individual complaints. Six United Nations treaty bodies will be holding sessions in the month of November on issues related to civil and political rights, women, racial discrimination, and torture. The Universal Periodic Review Working Group will also be in session and will review nine State reports, holding interactive dialogues with those States’ representatives. Seven UN Special Rapporteurs and one working group expert will conduct country visits, and three working groups will be in session in Geneva, Switzerland. Regionally, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), and African Court on Human and People’s Rights (AfCHPR) will all be in session. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear three cases related to inhuman and degrading treatment in the context of the effectiveness of a criminal investigation, fair punishment in the context of suspension from public office as a penalty for conviction, and the legality of detention as a preventative measure.
The UN Human Rights Council’s and UN treaty bodies’ sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The IACtHR’s session may be viewed on its website or Vimeo page, and the IACHR sessions may be viewed on its YouTube channel. The African Court sessions may be watched on its YouTube channel. The ECtHR hearings may be viewed on its webcast.
To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
The International Justice Resource Center (IJRC) in collaboration with the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) and the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA) will hold a training from 09:00 to 10:30 on October 30, 2017 at the Kairaba Hotel in Banjul, The Gambia, ahead of the 61st Ordinary Session of the African Commission of Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR). The training, which will take place at the seat of the ACHPR in Banjul, seeks to provide human rights defenders, advocates, and victims with updated tools and strategies for conducting research on sources in international human rights law, State compliance with human rights obligations, and national legislation and jurisprudence. As part of its 61st Ordinary Session, which begins on November 1, 2017, the ACHPR will celebrate its 30th anniversary; the ACHPR will use the commemoration to assess the progress of the Commission and to develop strategies for the future promotion of human rights in Africa. [ACHPR: Anniversary] IJRC invites all attendees of the 61st Ordinary Session and preceding NGO Forum to attend this training. For more information, see IJRC’s event flyer and training description.
IJRC also wishes to call attention to the recent arrest in Tanzania of ISLA executive director, Sibongile Ndashe, and 12 other advocates. These human rights defenders were arrested while participating in a workshop on planned litigation to challenge Tanzania’s restrictions on clinics and lubricants helping to stop the spread of HIV. [HRW] The police arrested the lawyers and activists for “promoting homosexuality,” a crime that reportedly does not appear on the Tanzanian criminal code; although they remained in detention, they had yet to be formally charged as of October 25, 2017. [ISLA; Daily Nation] Tanzania is among the countries that still criminalize same-sex conduct. See ILGA, Sexual Orientation Laws in the World – Criminalisation. Authorities have carried out similar arrests over the past year, as part of an intensified crackdown on the LGBT community. [AP; NewsDeeply; Guardian] IJRC has signed on to calls for their immediate release without charge, and looks forward to seeing our ISLA partners in Banjul. Read more
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights holds a thematic hearing
In the month of September, several regional bodies and universal bodies and experts will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations by engaging in interactive dialogues, considering State and civil society reports, conducting country visits, holding hearings, and reviewing individual complaints. Five United Nations treaty bodies will meet throughout September to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to persons with disabilities; migrants and their families; enforced disappearances; children; and economic, social, and cultural rights. The UN Human Rights Council will be in session and will host panel discussions and forums related to unilateral coercive measures, the integration of the human rights of women throughout the United Nations system, the human rights of indigenous peoples, and the impact of intersecting forms of discrimination against women and girls. Four UN special rapporteurs will conduct country visits and one working group will meet in Geneva, Switzerland to discuss issues pertaining to enforced disappearances. Regionally, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), and the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will be in session.
The UN treaty body sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The African Court sessions may be watched on its YouTube channel, and the IACHR sessions may also be viewed on its YouTube channel. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
UN Secretary General António Guterres meets with President Uhuru Kenyatta
Credit: UN Photo/Antonio Fiorente
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, last week urged Kenyan leaders to “calm a volatile political climate” while ensuring the right to peaceful assembly; his statement followed reports of the use of live ammunition against protesters in the wake of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s August 8th re-election. Reports indicate 24 people died due to the post-election violence. [Washington Post; OHCHR Press Release: Zeid] In addition to Zeid’s statements, the UN Secretary General António Guterres, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) also responded to the post-election violence. The Secretary General called on leaders to settle disputes over the election through the appropriate institutions and to urge others to refrain from violence. [UNSG Press Release] The African Commission called for increased transparency of voter tallying, the avoidance of acts or statements inciting violence, and the use of legal avenues to address election related disputes. [ACHPR Press Release] While it was not responding directly to the post-election violence, the East African Community (EAC) Election Observer Mission to the Republic of Kenya (EAC Mission) did encourage anyone dissatisfied with the results to use the proper channels to challenge the outcome. [EAC Press Release] Despite the reports of post-election violence, Zeid, Guterres, the African Commission, and the EAC Mission recognized and commended Kenya’s peaceful voting process before the violence. [ACommHPR Press Release; EAC Press Release; OHCHR Press Release: Zeid; UNSG Press Release]
Kenya has a history of election related violence. Notably, during its 2007 elections, inter-ethnic clashes and police violence resulted in 1,100 people killed and 650,000 people displaced. [HRW: 2013] As a State party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as well as other international human rights treaties, Kenya has an obligation to protect, respect, and fulfill the rights to life, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and participation in public affairs under articles 4, 9, 11, and 13, respectively. Read more
Dr. Clement Julius Mashamba, an expert on the ACERWC
The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) announced earlier this month that the African Union Assembly adopted the 2040 Agenda for Children, which lays out goals related to the rights of children set to be achieved across the continent by 2040. [ACERWC Press Release] The agenda was developed in consideration of conclusions drawn during a conference held in 2015 to evaluate the status of the rights of children in Africa 25 years after the adoption of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Children’s Charter), which 48 of the 55 States on the continent have ratified. [ACERWC Press Release] The agenda, which draws on the Children’s Charter as well as other prominent legal and political documents, calls for an effective framework for the advancement of children’s rights, children’s access to nourishment and basic necessities, children’s ability to reap the benefits of education, the protection of children from abuse, and a child-sensitive criminal justice system, among other aspirations. [ACERWC Press Release] States will be responsible for reviewing their progress annually, and the ACERWC will facilitate more extensive reviews every five years. See ACERWC, Africa’s Agenda for Children 2040: Fostering an Africa Fit for Children (2016), at 34. Read more
Reine Alapini-Gansou, the ACHPR Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, (right) sits with other ACHPR Commissioners
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) recently published the Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa that recommends repealing harmful and discriminatory laws, ensuring compliance with existing international standards that impact human rights defenders, and developing standards on women human rights defenders, among other recommendations. Adopted earlier this year during the 2nd International Symposium on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Africa held from March 27 to April 1, 2017, in Cotonou, Benin, civil society, national human rights institutions (NHRIs), and States in the region developed the Declaration. See ACommHPR, Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa (adopted on 1 April 2017). The Commission’s Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Madame Reine Alapini-Gansou, organized the colloquium with the goal of strengthening the protection of human rights defenders in the pan-African region through an assessment of the progress made, and the development of new strategies capable of responding to the current needs of human right defenders. See ACommHPR, 60th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Intersession Activity Report (2017), para. 35. The Declaration identifies the abuse of counter-terrorism laws, undue restrictions on the right to freedom of association, violence and threats of violence against defenders and their families, reprisals, and the targeting of certain groups of defenders, among others, as challenges to the protection of human rights defenders, and recommends, in part, raising awareness through the documentation of violations and publication of reports. See Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa (2017). This Declaration is one of seven declarations adopted by the ACHPR since its founding, and while the ACHPR has adopted resolutions on human rights defenders, the existing treaties, declarations, and general comments in the pan-African Human Rights System do not address human rights defenders specifically.
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
In its first judgment on the treatment and rights of indigenous people, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) held that Kenya violated the Ogiek peoples’ rights to land, religion, culture, development, and non-discrimination. See AfCHPR, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights v. Kenya, App. no. 006/2012, Judgment of 26 May 2017. Specifically, the African Court held that the State violated the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights because Kenya expelled the Ogiek from their ancestral land against their will, without prior consultation or compensation. See id. The Ogiek are forest-dwelling people that live in the Mau Forest, one of Kenya’s largest water catchment areas. They argued that eviction would prevent them from using and maintaining ownership of their ancestral land on which they rely on for their social, economic, and cultural existence. [ACHPR Press Release] This is the second ruling from the African System against Kenya regarding its treatment of indigenous people. In 2010, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) found that the Endorois peoples’ eviction from their land in the 1970’s was in violation of their rights to property, health, culture, natural resources, and religion. [Reuters; HRW] However, this recent judgment, though, is the first from the African Court to rule on indigenous peoples’ rights. [ACHPR Press Release] Further, this is one of only three cases that the African Commission has referred to the Court, and the only one that has been referred on the basis of grave, mass human rights violations. [ESCR] Read more